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The Santa Question

     Christmas celebrations in Christian households take on so much variety, depending, in part, on the origin of our families and also on the depth of our faith.  

     My husband’s family emigrated from Germany, so he brought into our union more emphasis on Christmas Eve than Christmas Day. They were traditionally Lutheran, so as we formed our own life together and discussed how we would raise our children, his expectations stemmed from a setting very different from mine.

     I was raised without a specifically churched upbringing, and our Christmases were centered around the tree, rather than the manger. I do recall many years of visiting my maternal grandparents’ historic Presbyterian church, where candles were lit in every congregant’s hands as we sang from Christmas Eve into the new morning. Silent Night, O Holy Night, In The Bleak Midwinter and more beautiful Noel classics filled the darkened room in blended harmonies, as I stood shoulder to shoulder with those I loved.  I didn’t know Jesus in any sort of personal way at that time—I only understood the peaceful calm that came over me in the presence of my family on a cherished Christmas Eve.

     My husband and I always celebrated Santa’s arrival in our childhood homes, so when we considered The Santa Question it was unanimous—our children would experience the mystery and wonder of the kind, nighttime visitor who was welcome to eat our cookies and drink our milk as he left behind gorgeous treasures we’d play with first and most all day.

     I remember believing as a child: insisting I saw Rudolph’s nose as a red light moving across the sky, when I was supposed to be deeply asleep; hearing footsteps overhead, where our tree was a floor above me; and knowing that Santa was hiding sweet items for me to unwrap in the morning. I do not recall the day, moment or year I stopped thinking the jolly old elf was real; I don’t remember that knowledge shaking my world—I don’t recall feeling jaded or lied to. I only remember the joy, colorful packages, and giddiness in uncovering the secrets that were stuffed into the handmade and personalized needlepoint stocking that hung just for me over the fireplace.

     When we made the conscious decision to allow Santa into our home, my husband shared his memories with me, which held the same delight. His family also went to a nighttime Christmas Eve service—but as they were loading into the car, one of his parents inevitably had to run back into the house for something they “forgot.” In the few moments they were inside, and unbeknownst to Tom and his little sister, his mom or dad would pull out a prepared tree skirt full of the Santa gifts, and wrap it around and under the tree to be discovered when they came home from church. They opened those gifts at night, before getting a good night’s sleep.When they woke in the morning, their grandfather’s handmade manger scene was under the tree, symbolizing Christ’s birth during the night.

     In contrast, my family rarely knew sleep on Christmas Eve. We children were hurried up to bed after the midnight service, tucked in and cautioned that Santa couldn’t come until we were asleep. Only after we were sawing logs did the busyness of the holiday kick in. All-night Wrapping Sessions took place in the living room as a barely stacked tree took on an overwhelming abundance of shine and brilliance!

     When we awoke, (often a mere hour or two after our exhausted family had fallen asleep), we found a room filled with gifts which had not been there when we tromped up to bed—Santa had been to our home! Candy canes covered the tree, left by the red-coated man, and our stockings overflowed with oranges, new socks, and dozens of small presents. We were allowed to dig into the stockings right away before the adults had a cup or two of coffee, and then the unwrapping took hours.  Nuts and snacks were laid out on tables as we played basketball in our attempts to throw crunched up wrapping papers into the garbage bag—and most of all, we laughed all day.

Refusing to Let Materialism Rule

     These memories are what led my husband and me in forming our own traditions. Primarily, we knew we did not want materialism to rule the day. As followers of Jesus, it was important to us that His story be told throughout the whole season, and that it be told as Truth.

The Santa Question - www.myfriendDebbie.com     So, we put an Advent ritual in place right away with our children—following a little booklet full of Scripture that tells the Christmas story over 25 days, lighting candles and opening one box nightly on our permanent, wooden advent calendar. The boxes are filled with very small items for the children, many of which are ornaments for the tree.

     We also read them the true testimony of an amazing man named Nicholas, later known to the world as Saint Nick, who was generous out of his financial and spiritual capability to bless others who had very little. Stories of Nicholas passed down through the generations blend the known with the tall tale and fabled, but nevertheless, we should understand him to have lived a life that ended in martyrdom, and look at him as a Christian hero for practicing his faith so clearly.

     Reading about Nicholas inspired us to read more about Patrick in March, and Valentine in February, and make the study of saints of the faith an important element in our homeschool curriculum.

     So, even as we have talked to our children about an expectation that Santa may visit on Dec. 24, I always couch that story in the True Tales of St. Nicholas, saying that it was because of that man’s Christian faith and charity that people still believe Santa comes to visit. My six-year-old son is smart enough to be figuring out the truth from the fiction, and he is purposefully holding onto the Santa tale right now, as a symbol and celebration that reminds us of Christian charity—whether a true overweight man stuffs himself down our chimney with some sort of molecular compression device, or not.

Learning to Give to Others

     One way we have extended our own Christian charity over the season of Christmas is to participate in Samaritan’s Purse’s Operation Christmas Child. My children invite their close friends over to our house in the early weeks of November to work on packing boxes for underprivileged children around the world. We pack the large load of filled boxes into our car the next day and deliver them to a local church collection site, where my children can see our wrapped packages join the amazing floor-to-ceiling stacks from others all over our small community. I love that the children see their personal contribution to a local ministry reach all the way around the globe.

     This year we will also register for the new service which allows our boxes to be tracked to a specific country, region and village, so we can map and learn about the geography of our gifts’ destination—what a wonderful way to connect their actions at home to the tangible truth that some child has been purposely blessed out of my children’s obedience to give!

     We have also borrowed from another holiday to form a new Christmas event. For the past three years, my family has been the target of a fun October tradition called ""ghosting" or "booing." A couple weeks before Halloween, some unknown neighbor  will leave a package on our doorstep with a funny poem and a cartoon drawing of a ghost. We are charged, in this note, to do the same to three other neighbors, so that the game spreads.  My children and I enjoy picking out small dollar items and some candy to give as gifts to children just across the street or next door, and then watch ghosts pop up on doors all over, communicating when a family has already been "hit."

     We celebrate this secret opportunity to connect with our neighbors (though most of us guess who planted the packages on each of our doors), more as a community event, than as a Halloween activity.  So last year, we decided to turn that idea into something more relevant to our faith, and bless others with a similar “drop” on St. Nicholas' Day, Dec. 6 (which happens to also be my daughter, Teagan’s, birthday).
     Last year, on the evening of Dec. 5, my mother, children and I stuffed little gift bags with nuts, a clementine, chocolate coins and candy canes for each child in neighboring households.  We tied each bag neatly with a ribbon, attached a poem I wrote, and then hung the bags on each family's doorknob to be discovered the next morning. My children were downright giddy about the clandestine game we were playing while other children were getting into jammies and brushing teeth for bedtime. They loved keeping the secret that only four of us knew.

     Many Christians choose not to honor Santa Claus as a figure in their Christmas celebrations, so as not to confuse their children between tall tales or fables and the true biographies of Scripture. I have dear friends who have told their children from their first Christmas only about the story of Jesus, while also stating that many children believe in Santa Claus, but that he isn't real. In our family we have chosen to allow Santa in but have also told the originating story of St. Nicholas, leaving lots of room for our children to understand that an acceptance of a Santa Christmas is more traditional than non-fiction.

     We have made the St. Nicholas activity our own and will practice that year after year. We attend a candlelit, midnight service at church; we make many of our gifts by hand; and we follow a walk through Scripture from Dec.1 to 25, followed by the Twelve Days of Christmas that lead to a telling of the Magi’s visit to Jesus as an older child at the season known in a liturgical setting as Epiphany. At our church, the Christmas history and celebration or Epiphany are demonstrated in beautiful drama that connects the meaning of the season all the more. I love the balance we have, even with Santa as a short-term visitor.

A fantastic site for more information about St. Nicholas is:

A one-page description of St. Nicholas, which we will print on the flipside of the poem I wrote:

And, here is the poem I wrote to accompany our secret gifts on the eve of St. Nicholas’ Day:

This December 6th you have been blessed
In the spirit of good St. Nicholas
Who noticed how many had so much less
And gave to them from his generousness
When poverty chilled children's feet
And they barely had enough to eat
Nuts and oranges, oh-so-sweet
Were left in their shoes as a special treat
Year after year, under cover of night
These candy canes of red and white
Are tucked in, too, oh-so-tight
Like his Bishop's crozier, held upright
During this Advent week, as lights go up,
As families shop and shop and shop
Remember those with an empty cup
Like jolly St. Nick--fill it up, fill it up!
Though Santa-attention is on himself,
His reindeer, his sleigh, and his little elves
Nick served others from his wealth
And like Christ, whom he followed, he did it in stealth.
So, we do too!
Happy Feast of St. Nicholas
and Merry Christmas!

Copyright © 2008-2015 Lisandrea Wentland

Reader Comments...
2009-12-04 16:15:28
"Lisa- you're such a special Mom, lady, niece. I just read your article on Santa/story of Christ's birth . . . I'm sending a small pkg . . . Blessings on all of you. Love, "
        - Linda

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